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Denon DVD-3910 Universal DVD Player - Supplement to the Benchmark Review

January, 2005

Paul Taatjes

 

Specifications:

 

● Codecs: DVD-V, DVD-A, SACD, HDCD,
    MP3, WMA-9, CD-R/W

● Outputs: S-Video, Component Video,
    DVI, HDMI, Firewire

● 24/192 DACS

● No Chroma Bug

● Dimensions: 5.4" H x 17.1" W x 15.9" D

● Weight: 20.5 Pounds

● MSRP: $1,499 USA

 

Denon

www.usa.denon.com

Introduction

Denon’s DVD-3910 is their new midrange (MSRP $1,499) universal player, with playback of nearly all disc formats. It also includes the newer digital audio and video connections like IEEE-1394 (Firewire), HDMI and DVI. De-interlacing and scaling are handled by the Faroudja FLI-2310 chip.

Many Denon fans have been chomping at the bit waiting for this player, which in many ways offers DVD-5900 level of features at a much lower price point.

This review focuses on the features, setup, and usability of the DVD-3910, along with some audio comparisons to the DVD-2900. Video performance and details can be found in the DVD-3910 Benchmark Results. The DVD-3910 had the highest score to date on the shootout with a 93 percent in Auto 2 mode.

Fit, Finish, and Faceplate

Denon’s mid to upper range players are usually quite beefy, and immediately impressive out of the box, the DVD-3910 is no exception. It is a substantial player weighing in at just over 20 pounds. The faceplate is reminiscent of my DVD-2900, being very clean and uncluttered, with a high end kook due to the beveled edges.

Denon finally got the power switch situation under control. The DVD-2900 had only a hard power on/off switch and with no control over standby mode. The DVD-3910 has a nice large standby switch, to function as your day-to-day power on/off, while maintaining a smaller hard power on/off switch. The problem with using only a hard on/off is that when the unit is switched fully off, a remote will no longer turn the unit on.

The front panel has standard disc control and navigation (Play, Stop, etc). In addition, there are controls for Video mode (Picture Setting Select, TV Type, Progressive Mode, Squeeze Mode), SACD Mode Select, Pure-Direct Select, and HDMI/DVI Select with Output Resolution control. The display is pretty much all encompassing with indicators for Format, Disc Type, Audio, and Video Output. My only complaint is that while SACD has its own clearly visible indicator, DVD-Audio and DVD-Video share the same indicator. This is problematic because DVD-Audio disks always contain at least one DVD-Video compatible audio track (DTS, DD, or PCM). The DVD-2900 had a single light for each high-resolution format, but was not as clearly visible (smaller, light only versus logo), but was always easy to tell at a glance that you had a hi-rez track selected.

Compatibility and Formats

An increasingly popular question people ask is about compatibility with burned DVDs. The manual lists the DVD-3910 as being compatible with DVD-R and –RW but makes no mention of DVD+R. I verified –R compatibility with Memorex 8X single layer DVD-R media. It appears as though DVD+R will not play as I tried TDK 4X single layer DVD+R and was unable to get it to play. TDK 4X is some of the highest compatibility DVD+R/-R media that I know of, so don’t count on the DVD-3910 being able to play any DVD+R based discs. There is conflicting information from Denon, as the PDF manual and promo material do not list DVD+R as being compatible, but the list of specs does. The DVD-2900 had no issues with any of the types of media I tried.

Being a progressive type of guy, I have been listening to MP3s quite a bit. As long as you aren’t doing sit down critical listening, and you rip your music at higher bitrates with a quality encoder, the sound quality can be more than acceptable. I use CDex to rip at 320 Kbps using the LAME encoder with good results. I have a number of DVDs filled with MP3s I mainly use in my car but also would like to use at home for background music and parties. The good news is that the DVD-3910 supports DVD-Rs and CD-Rs burned with MP3s and WMAs. The bad news is that it is rather slow at loading and accessing these files, decreasing the usefulness. The DVD-2900, while being much MUCH quicker, would only play MP3s burned on CD-Rs, with DVD-R and DVD+R given a “NO PLAY” error when loaded with MP3s. The DVD-3910 is not ID3-tag compatible, so MP3 and WMAs can only be displayed using folder titles and the first 8 characters of the file name, instead of the full amount of information you would see using most standalone MP3 players. Other limitations include a max supported bitrate of 160 kbps for WMA files, and a maximum of 600 files per disc for MP3 and 99 files per folder for WMA.

I also had some issues with my Queen The Game DVD-Audio. There was no video output during playback. This made choosing songs and the audio tracks very difficult. I would imagine this would be an easy fix via a firmware update and may already be corrected. There may very well be other DVD-Audios from DTS that have similar issues. The 3910 was also much more finicky with scratched media and with burned media than either my car DVD player or the DVD-2900. It still played most discs without issues, but some of my scratched CD-Rs would not play correctly. Additional supported formats include Fuji Color CD, Kodak Picture CD, VCD, CD-RW, and SACD.

Remote

The Denon scores BIG in this area. The remote is fairly large and not particularly “chic” looking, but it has functionality in spades. The core navigation buttons are backlit, however, the light button is somewhat hard to find in the dark. Since there is a discrete power-off button, programming macros on learning remotes is a breeze. There are buttons for selecting the DVI/HDMI output type and formats, along with an NTSC/PAL selector. In addition to the standard buttons all DVD remotes have, and the Pure Direct and Picture Adjust common to many Denon models, the DVD-3910 has an SACD setup button. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is a glaring omission on nearly all DVD player remotes out there. Allowing SACD setup control on the remote means no more walking up to the player to switch between multi-channel, stereo, and CD tracks. This is a much-appreciated addition.

Connections

This is the area that really caught my eye in reading the pre-release information. In addition to the component, S-Video, and composite video outputs, we are also given BOTH HDMI and DVI connections. Included on the audio side: 5.1 analog outputs for multi-channel, digital coax, Toslink, and IEEE 1394 “Firewire”. The DVD-3910 supports DTCP (Digital Transmission Content Protection) allowing SACD content transmission over the IEEE 1394 connection as long as the processor being used also supports DTCP. The HDMI connection is also capable of carrying both stereo (all formats, including SACD) and multi-channel (DVD-A, LPCM, P.PCM, DTS/DD, PCM only) unless encoded with CPPM (Content Protection for Pre-recorded Media), which cannot be transmitted over HDMI. In addition to the above, the 3910 includes the proprietary digital “Denon Link Second Edition”. I am not a fan of this connection as it can only be used with other Denon Link S.E equipment; however it doesn’t hurt anything to have the option.

Setup

In addition to the bevy of connection options, the very extensive setup menus are a highlight of the DVD-3910. I won’t get into every detail of the setup options but will list some of the more important ones. Highlights on the video side include HDMI/DVI Black Level, 5 Progressive Video Modes, Squeeze Mode, Wallpaper Type, TV Type, and Aspect Ratio. Also there are five image control memories that can be configured. There are controls for Contrast, Brightness, High and Medium Frequency Sharpness, Tint, Cross Color Suppressor, White Level, Chroma Level and Delay, Noise Reduction, Vertical and Horizontal Image Enhancement, and 10 Band Gamma. HDMI can be configured for either Y Cb Cr or RGB output, and both HDMI and DVI can output in 540p/576p, 720p, or 1080i.

The audio side is extensive. There is full control over HDMI LPCM multi-channel configuration with Speaker Size, Channel Level, Delay, for all channels, with an adjustable crossover with settings of 40, 60, 80, 100, and 120 Hz. A separate multi-channel analog output menu features all the adjustments HDMI has, including a +10 dB bass enhancement option. The +10 dB option is a great addition (also seen on other newer Denon universal players), since in order to get the proper levels on the DVD-2900, I was forced to have all full range channels at around –10 dB and leave the subwoofer output at zero. Since the unit includes the Analog Devices Melody 100 “Hammerhead” processors, SACD can be converted to PCM for the same level of control available with DVD-A sources. In addition, the player features AL24 processing, which is designed to aid in analog waveform reproduction from PCM sources.

Video

The 3910 has already undergone rigorous video testing by Kris Deering in the Benchmark. Special attention should be paid to the discussion regarding macro-blocking or “MB” for short. This is an issue which has been seen in various degrees in ALL players using the Faroudja FLI-2300 for de-interlacing. However, there were zero artifacts in 720p and 480p on my Hitachi 51SWX20B. Kris also had no issues on his Panasonic plasma, which is typically the most affected by the problem. From Kris’s findings, the DVD-3910 has the least amount of macro-blocking issues of any of the FLI-2300-based players seen thus far. However, before buying this or any other player using the FLI-2300, I would suggest browsing the forums for user experiences with your type of display and be sure to buy from a local authorized dealer who allows returns for incompatibility. For most people, there will be no issues, and you will be able to experience the height of what this player has to offer (the highest benchmark score ever).

Subjectively, this player has an extremely sharp and clear picture. Although I have a CRT-based RPTV, I could still see extra clarity and sharpness using the DVI output. For film based material, I normally prefer the image produced by the Silicon Image Sil504 de-interlacer used in the DVD-2900 over the Faroudja based players I have seen. However, since the DVD-3910 does pretty much everything right in combination with using the ultra clean DVI interface, it just edges out the DVD-2900 using component video connections in my opinion. As expected, with video-based material (such as TV programs on DVD), there is no contest, the DVD-3910 image quality is far superior.

My biggest (only?) gripe with the DVD-3910 is the speed. Menu and disk navigation are somewhat sluggish, and some DVDs will have a very slight layer change pause. Kris Deering has exposure to MANY more DVD players than I do running the Benchmark tests, and when stacked up against the majority of players, the DVD-3910 scores very well. However, I am coming from the Ferrari of DVD players in the DVD-2900, which is likely the fastest player on the market, so I was a bit annoyed at the sluggish behavior of the 3910.

Audio

One area the DVD-3910 has a huge leg up on the DVD-2900 is the inclusion of digital transmission of high-resolution muti-channel audio. This allows use of the DVD-3910 as a digital transport and leaves your high-end SSP or flagship receiver to handle all the processing of DVD-Audio and SACD material, eliminating the cumbersome six RCA analog connections. However, for the listening tests I wanted to hear what the player was capable of and used the analog connections for the listening tests.

I was pretty skeptical at first, and thought how much difference can there be going from the Denon DVD-2900, already a very good sounding player? I couldn’t believe how much the soundstage opened up and the depth of image was increased. One of the first times I had heard very good front to back and vertical imaging, in addition to left to right from stereo was on fellow writer Kris Deering’s latest configuration. He is using an Anthem D1 SSP, Onix Reference 3 loudspeakers, and Anthem Statement Amplifiers with a Denon DVD-5900. Now to be fair, most good two channel setups at least yield decent vertical imaging.

In comparison, my current setup with Axiom M60ti loudspeakers, Pioneer Elite 53tx receiver, and Denon DVD-2900, while sounding excellent and detailed, was much more collapsed than Kris’ setup. Imaging was limited to mainly left to right, with just a few feet of perceived vertical, and little projected to the rear with two channel. In addition, the overall soundstage was just more compact, not extending as far past the speakers in width or depth. I chalked it up to my room and/or speakers.

The DVD-3910 squashed my little theory! Using the stereo SACD track on David Elias’s The Window, the soundstage was huge, and detail impeccable. Once I put in Beck’s Sea Change, I was floored. There it was, my coveted rear imaging with different effects to the side and behind me, complete with a depth extending well behind my mains. I had to double check that it was still reading the stereo track! I put the DVD-2900 right back in the system and replayed the same track, now knowing exactly what I was listening for. Sure enough, detail levels and left to right imaging were almost identical. However the very obvious and monstrous depth of field was shrunk down, with the same effects that were projected just behind my head falling only about two feet in front of the mains. For me this opened my eyes to real differences in sound between DVD players, even from the same company, in the same price range.

For Denon, this was a definite win. I continued on with my typical round of reference material, with the likes of Norah Jones Come Away with Me, A Perfect Circle Thirteenth Step, and Queen’s The Game. In every case, the sound quality met or exceeded that of the DVD-2900, with similar details and tonal quality, with an expanded soundstage.

Conclusions

The Denon DVD-3910 is a grand slam. From the excellent video and audio performance, to the absolutely phenomenal setup options and available video control parameters and audio processing, this player delivers. The wide range of digital and analog connections for both audio and video covers almost every base imaginable. This DVD player is the current king of the hill at anywhere near this price range. My only question is, why did it take this long to get a DVD player like this?

High Definition DVD is right around the corner, and only you can make the decision if spending this much money on a DVD player is worth it at this point in the product cycle. Since I am not able to take advantage of the IEEE-1394 digital audio interface, and I put a premium on player speed, I was not previously able to justify spending the extra money to move from the DVD-2900. However, after hearing the expanded soundstage and the slightly added clarity from the DVI output on the 3910, I may be forced to reconsider when funds become available. Bottom line: If your display isn’t one of the few to have macro-blocking issues when paired with this player, I have no hesitation heartily recommending the DVD-3910.



- Paul Taatjes -

© Copyright 2005 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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